The new taxi in town

Uber’s new model invades Dayton

By Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin

Photo: Reefer Hut guitarist and Oddbody’s Music Room owner Neilson Hixson; photo: Nikki Forte

The ride-share company Uber started in San Francisco five years ago. Utilizing smartphone technology, Uber’s app allows riders to connect with a driver, get where they need to go and pay for the trip, all online. Unlike a typical cab company, which employs its drivers and owns the vehicles, Uber drivers are independent contractors who work at will by signing on to the network. Background checks and insurance verifications are done prior to drivers receiving access to Uber, and every rider after every ride is prompted to review their driver, creating a self-regulating feedback system that keeps the level of service in check. Uber was introduced to Dayton this past August with UberX, the low-cost Uber option billed as, “Everyday cars for everyday use. Better, faster, and cheaper than a taxi.” So far, so good.

Uber has been lauded for their innovation but has also received heavy condemnation for its missteps. In 2013, USA Today named Uber Technology Company of the Year. On the other end of the feedback spectrum, Uber Technologies currently has an “F” rating from the Better Business Bureau based on, among other things, confusion regarding pricing and response time from their customer service department. Uber is continuing to expand and is currently located in more than 50 countries and 200 cities worldwide. Meanwhile, taxicab driver protests, action from transportation agencies and tragic headlines have prompted the banning of Uber in some locations. It’s not surprising that the general populace may find itself conflicted when it comes to Uber.

To sort out some of this conflicting information, Dayton City Paper spoke with representatives from both sides of the debate. This writer also took both a cab and an Uber ride in Dayton to see where praise or criticism might be warranted. Is Uber a sweeping success of the technological age, offering a reasonably priced service that we should welcome with open arms? Or is the company a greedy, heedless barrel full of bros rolling toward global domination, mowing down unsuspecting citizens in the process?

In the “con” column

Who’s Driving You? is an initiative of the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association (TLPA) and is aimed at educating the public about the dangers of unlicensed transportation companies.

“It’s basically designed for making consumers and city leaders aware of the drawbacks involved in ride-sharing companies,” spokesman Dave Sutton explained.

So what’s their beef with Uber? High on the list is the exploitation of the loophole allowing companies to define themselves as “ride sharing” as opposed to a “transportation service.”

“It’s a combination of boldness and venture capital,” Sutton said of Uber’s aggressive climb to financial success despite the eyebrow-raising definition of their company, which coincidentally allows them to skirt around some of the more time-consuming and expensive requirements laid on traditional taxicab companies. This, in part, allows the company to offer their services at a price that often beats that of a cab.

“There have been 21 American states plus the District of Columbia whose state insurance departments have issued warnings to their own citizens, to consumers, both ride sharing drivers and passengers saying that the insurance provided by these companies for their service is unsafe and inadequate,” Sutton explained.

Other insurance concerns involve riders putting themselves in situations that aren’t covered by Uber’s policy at all: like when a passenger makes a cash deal with a driver instead of paying through the app.

“The driver has incentive because Uber isn’t going to take their percentage, and the passenger doesn’t have to worry about it being more because of surge pricing,” Sutton said. “There’s absolutely no insurance in this scenario. If you don’t go through the app, you’re never listed as a passenger. Their insurance is not going to cover you. You never existed as a passenger.”

Sutton also points to Uber’s background check process as an area that has led to horrifying scenarios in which riders were physically injured or sexually assaulted. Sutton used the case of Davea Whitmire to illustrate his point. Whitmire was a driver for UberX in San Francisco who got through the company’s background check despite having a recent felony and a second felony pending. After Whitmire physically assaulted a passenger, Sutton said, “It came to light that this private company that’s doing Uber’s background checks is missing a lot of stuff, and subsequently we’ve seen all kinds of assault involving Uber drivers.”

So what could Uber do to sew up some of these holes that leave drivers and riders open to harm? “Uber could use Live Scan, a private company that is approved by the government to provide criminal background checks that involve government vetting,” Sutton said. “Live Scan is more expensive because of the government criminal background checks they constantly update. And here’s the other thing, they’re slower. Uber can run a criminal background check in three days, sometimes less. And what that allows them to put more drivers on the street [than their competitors].”

Could the time and money it takes to do a more thorough background check really prevent a company from ensuring the safety of their customers? Sutton thinks so.

“They transfer that cost of risk, and basically that’s why they’re able to provide cheaper service,” Sutton said. “Cheaper is not safer, and you have to wonder, what’s the cost? What’s the real price of it?”

The “pro” column

James Ondrey, general manager for Uber in Ohio, is proud to have brought Uber’s technology to his home state. Now based in Columbus, Ondrey oversees operations in all of Uber’s six cities, including Dayton.

Ondrey explained that safety is a high priority at Uber.

“Before anyone would ever have access to drive on our network and be able to take anyone around, they go through a very stringent background check process,” he said. “That involves us doing a multi-state, county and federal criminal database check, [and] a motor vehicle history report going back as far as the law will allow us to. We check the sex offender registry. We look at the vehicle with different steps that people have to pass before they would get access to take someone around.”

Ondrey would go so far as to argue that Uber actually does a more thorough job than taxicab companies.

“If you look at what most taxi drivers go through to provide their service, ours are more comprehensive than most that are out there,” he said. “So we feel really good about what we’re looking at with people before they have access to the network.”

When it comes to insurance, Ondrey says Uber’s stance is, “the more, the better.” In addition to their eminent million-dollar insurance policy, there’s also a million dollars of uninsured motorists coverage. What does that mean?

“That just means if you’re on an UberX trip and another vehicle happens to hit you and your driver and that vehicle wasn’t carrying enough or any insurance for whatever reason, Uber will step in with up to a million dollars and cover that,” Ondrey explained. “That type of coverage is traditionally not required of taxis and limousines, so if you were to potentially be involved in a hit-and-run and you were in a taxi, there may or may not be coverage in place for the other vehicle.”

Ondrey also expressed Uber’s commitment to safety extends past background checks and insurance policies. Uber has recently partnered with Mothers Against Drunk Driving to promote the designating of a non-drinking driver to those who choose to imbibe outside of their home.

“We did our own study that showed that DUIs fell by about 10 percent in our Seattle market after we entered,” Ondrey said. “So we’re seeing that impact on DUIs, and I think that’s one of the major benefits of having this system in a city.”

Besides Uber’s measures to assure safety, Ondrey is also pleased with his company’s dedication to providing an opportunity for residents to make money with flexibility by becoming an Uber driver. Specifically, the soon-to-come Uber Military, helmed by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, will bring members of the military community to the Uber platform, an interesting proposition for the Dayton area, which boasts a strong connection to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

“We’re seeing that the transition from military to civilian work often isn’t as smooth as it should be,” Ondrey said. “Their unemployment rate is higher than it is over the rest of the population. We’re trying to create a better ease back, giving people better opportunities to make income using a vehicle. … They’re well-rated individuals, they come from that background, they do a good job, they put consistent hours on. It’s a win for Uber, too, because it’s a good opportunity for people looking for rides, and we connect them with somebody who is going to be a good driver. So it’s kind of a win-win for everybody.”

Let’s take a ride: my cab and Uber experiences

I chose to do a little hands-on research to compare my experiences getting a ride in Dayton – both from a taxi service, and from Uber. I chose consecutive Wednesday evenings at 7:30 p.m. I took both rides from a tavern in the Oregon District to one near my home in Walnut Hills, a distance of about two miles.

Both vehicles were clean and comfortable, although the Uber car was newer and higher-end. Both drivers were amicable men, neither of whom reside in Dayton.

The cab ride

I called Checker Cab and was quoted 10 minutes for my wait for Liberty Cab to arrive. I asked if I would be able to pay with a credit card, and I was assured that I would be able to. Exactly 10 minutes later, I received a call and was told my cab was out front. When I got in, the meter already had the $2 minimum glowing in red. The interior of the car was warm and didn’t have any unusual odors, although everything seemed a bit worn. The five-minute ride was punctuated with the driver, an older gentleman who is near retirement and lives in Cincinnati, telling me about his history with driving cabs and how business has gotten slower for him over the past few years.

The ride was uneventful, save for a little miscommunication as to which tavern I had indicated as my destination. The only real troublesome part of the experience was payment. Remember how I asked if they take credit cards? I should have made it a two-part question: “Do you take credit cards that do not have raised numbers on them and, further, will I be able to leave the tip on my credit card?”

Had I made that specific inquiry, I may have avoided the following: the driver gave me the total with tax, which was $11.53; I handed him my card; he handed it back and told me that he couldn’t take a flat card because he needed to make a rubbing of it on the carbon receipt; I handed him a different card, which had raised numbers; he called his dispatch office and read them the numbers off my card; he read them to the dispatch office a second time because they couldn’t hear him on his cell phone clearly the first time; he made the rubbing of my card on the credit card processing slip and handed it to me to sign; I asked if I could write in the tip on the “tip” line and was told that I could not because he had already called the total in to his dispatch office; I signed the receipt and slipped him a $5 bill because I didn’t have any $1 bills and I emotionally couldn’t handle asking this kindly octogenarian for change on a tip.

All told, I spent five minutes riding in the cab, 10 minutes processing my payment, and tipped more than 40 percent. I could have streamlined the procedure by paying cash, which, while not terribly convenient in this day and age, would have afforded me the luxury of anonymity, something that is not even an option with Uber.

The Uber ride…

Couldn’t have gone more smoothly. I downloaded the app on my phone, entered my credit card information, approved Uber’s access to my identity/contacts/location/phone/photos/media/files/camera/wi-fi connection information/device ID/call information, plugged in my location and destination, was quoted five minutes and was able to watch the driver’s approach on my screen, like Pac-Man. The car was comfortable and equipped with a little phone holder appendage so the driver, a middle-aged University of Dayton dad who lives in Indiana and drives for Uber when he’s visiting his children at school, could follow the map on his phone to my destination. When we arrived, he swiped the slider on his phone, effectively ending the ride, and I was instantaneously emailed a receipt for $7.75, which broke down to a $2 base fare, $3.15 for distance, $1.60 for time and a $1 “safe rides” fee. I also received a prompt from the Uber app to rate my driver, whom I gave top marks. Success! Aside from handing over so much access to my phone and the weird feeling of being tracked by a stranger, the experience was totally comfortable, convenient and affordable.

Not what you expected to hear about the big, bad Uber monster that’s been portrayed as wreaking all this havoc in cities around the world? Well, I did have another, more thrilling, Uber experience…

Over the holidays I visited friends in New York and used the opportunity to extend my taxicab vs. Uber research. My Uber ride was a nightmare. I had difficulty finding the car outside of Penn Station. There was confusion over the address I was trying to get to in Brooklyn. My driver seemed to have a bit of a short fuse, which was made apparent by the severe scolding I received for my lack of borough knowledge, and escalated when he struck another vehicle in front of my destination and proceeded to get in a verbal and nearly physical sparring match with the other car’s owner.

Uber did not lose an opportunity to impress me, though. Shortly after submitting my rating of the driver with a few notes on the Uber app, I received an email from a representative in which she apologized and told me she had contacted a colleague to look further into the matter. The following morning I received a call from her colleague who also apologized and assured me that the way my driver had behaved was completely unacceptable and not typical by any means. She was earnest and seemed genuinely concerned for my well-being. I was pleased by the phone call and impressed by the refund of my fare and follow-up email reiterating Uber’s apology and offering any further assistance I might need. My ride experience may have been unfortunate, but the customer service experience was one of the finest I’ve ever had.

I hailed a cab the following day for a short ride between a restaurant and a museum, and it went off without a hitch. Raise your arm, give the driver your destination, fork over some cash and that’s the end of the transaction, pretty much anonymously. Convenient, too, considering how ubiquitous cabs are in big cities like New York. Besides, it makes a girl feel a little bit like Holly Golightly, you know?

Well, which one?

So what are the advantages of one over the other when deciding between a cab and Uber? In a city the size of Dayton with its current transportation resources, many people may find Uber works out pretty well, especially when it comes to payment. However, if you don’t have a smartphone or aren’t comfortable giving a large company access to your personal files, a cab would probably suit you better. Both entities agree that either are better options than driving under the influence and possibly injuring yourself or others.

Looking a little broader than simple transportation, what could an app like Uber mean? Look at what’s happening over at Sony Pictures. After a hack by a group that may or may not be associated with North Korean terrorists, not only was the release of one of their holiday blockbusters delayed, but the company has made major changes and reverted back to an analog system of communication. Would a hack into Uber’s database reveal areas of your life you would rather keep private?

My take from all this, after the research and the horror stories and the experiences and the redemptions? Cab or Uber, it’s pretty basic, and I’m sure you’ve all gotten it from the mother figure in your life: travel in pairs, know where you’re going, communicate plainly with your driver, carry at least a little bit of cash on you at all times and for land sakes, don’t get so drunk in public that you can’t manage yourself and end up letting your guard down around unsavory characters. Got it? Okay.

To learn more about Who’s Driving You?, please visit whosdrivingyou.org. For more about Uber, please visit uber.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin at JenniferHanauerLumpkin@DaytonCityPaper.com. To read more from Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin, visit her website at jennerlumpkin.com.

 

Tags: ,

About Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin

View all posts by Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin
Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin is a writer and amateur cartographer living in Dayton, Ohio. She has been a member of PUSH (Professionals United for Sexual Health) since 2012 and is currently serving as Chair. She can be reached at JenniferHanauerLumpkin@DaytonCityPaper.com or through her website at jennerlumpkin.com.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Dayton Sunday Reading List – February 15 | Girl About Town - February 15, 2015

    […] Uber’s New Model Invades Dayton by Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin – The Dayton City Paper recently ran a cover story about Uber, the car service app that’s now available in Dayton. It goes over some of the pros and cons about using Uber as well as traditional taxi services. […]

Leave a Reply

Got an Opinion?

YourOpinionMatters

We are interested to hear what you think.  Please send us a message. [contact-form 4 “Opinion”]  

Yes, Flying Saucers Do Exist!

Allison Maddux (Scandal #5) layout bid against Kathryn Lawson (Riot #38). 2013 USA Ultimate Club National Championships Women's Semifinals

Please don’t call it Frisbee. Colorful flying plastic discs fill the air around this time of year, tossed from hand […]

Debate 7/10: You’ve got mail…for now!

DebateMcCoy

Who in their wildest dreams thought Donald Trump could be a consensus builder? Certainly not me. Donald has done something […]

Bubbles to beat the brunch backlash

EPICUREAN_WINE1

I casually peruse food articles, as you might guess. One emerging set of hot takes seems to revolve around brunch. […]

Jump, jive, and wail!

FeatureTheatre

Since 1982, Muse Machine has been a staple of many lives in the Miami Valley. Over 76,000 lives, each year, […]

A Monument to Insurrection

FeatureVisuals

Dayton Society of Artists’ special summer exhibit Alan Pocaro, The Distance Between Us When We Communicate (Detail) By Tim Smith […]